2014 Brings More Changes to Federal Pay and Benefits
OPM widens debt collection window, eases tenure process and expands health benefits to some interns.
The new year has ushered in several developments related to federal employees’ pay and benefits -- some more positive than others.
Headlining that list, of course, is the end of a three-year pay freeze for most federal workers, who received a 1 percent pay bump on Jan. 1. However, there also have been some less high-profile changes.
Historically, federal agencies have had 10 years to collect money their employees owed to the government, not including outstanding tax debts.
The Office of Personnel Management in 2011 proposed to eliminate that decade-long statute of limitations, and this week the agency issued the final rule implementing the change. OPM said the rule puts federal agencies in compliance with the 2008 farm bill, which included a provision to do away with such time constraints.
The situation could arise when an agency accidentally overpays an employee. At least one unidentified labor organization used the public comment period to object to the rule, saying it would make agencies “accountable for clearing up mistakes in a timely fashion.” OPM said it did not have the authority to address such a concern.
In a related move this week, OPM proposed a new rule that would allow agencies to deduct from an employee’s paycheck “delinquent non-tax debts” owed to the government without first obtaining a court order.
The rule specifies OPM must provide employees 30 days’ notice before deducting pay -- known as “wage garnishment” -- and provide the debtor the opportunity to see the records relating to the debt owed. At that point, debtors can set up a repayment agreement with the agency or request a hearing to go over the debts.
Road to Tenure
OPM is also attempting to make it easier for federal employees to earn “tenure,” a designation that mollifies the path for ex-feds to regain federal employment.
Currently, federal employees have to serve for a “substantially continuous” three-year period to attain career tenure. “Substantially continuous” is defined as no break in service of more than 30 days. The change will enable feds to earn the status for any three years of total service, “whether or not continuous.”
Obtaining tenure allows individuals who separate from federal service to have lifetime reinstatement eligibility, meaning they would not have to compete with the general public for a future competitive service appointment. It also helps employees who are laid off due to a reduction in force rejoin the federal workforce later.
The proposed rule comes after the U.S. Army raised an issue concerning military spouses, who often are forced to relocate and as a result lose their credited service while searching for a job in their new locations.
Pathway to Benefits
OPM has granted health care and other benefits to long-term interns in the federal government.
Participants in the Pathways Program, which President Obama created by executive order in 2010, now can enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program and feds’ life insurance plan.
Pathways, which targets students and recent graduates, and typically provides one-year internships, is one of the government’s recruitment efforts to attract young people to federal service. By offering a full array of benefits, OPM hopes to “further the recruitment and retention of talent by federal agencies.”
OPM issued an interim rule to expand the benefits, meaning Pathways participants will be eligible for immediate enrollment.